The Mushroom Monk: Nyogen Senzaki

Helen Tworkov

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“THE LAND OF THE WHITE BARBARIANS is beneath the dignity of a Zen master," argued Soyen Shaku's monks when Soyen was invited to the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. But the Japanese abbot already had high expectations for the new world. Disregarding the objections of his monks, Soyen Shaku (1859-1919) became the first Zen priest to visit the United States. In Chicago, he represented Zen Buddhism with diplomatic discretion. Privately, however, Soyen felt that Zen in Japan had grown impoverished, sapped of true spiritual inquiry. On Soyen's horizon, the future of Zen rested with the barbarians in the West.

For the first half of the twentieth century, Zen activity in the United States was carried out by Soyen Shaku's lineage alone, its influence continuing through his two messengers to the West: the world-famous D. T. Suzuki (1869-1966), who became the popularized voice of Zen, and the little-known Zen saint and monk Nyogen Senzaki (1876-1958).

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